Fate Core System

©2013 Evil Hat Productions, LLC. Refer to the licensing pages at http://www.faterpg.com/licensing/ for details.

This is the OGL version of this text. License found at the end of this document.

1

THE BASICS

Welcome to Fate!

If you’ve never played a roleplaying game before, here’s the basic idea: you and a bunch of friends get together to tell an interactive story about a group of characters you make up. You get to say what challenges and obstacles those characters face, how they respond, what they say and do, and what happens to them.

It’s not all just conversation, though—sometimes you’ll use dice and the rules in this book to bring uncertainty into the story and make things more exciting.

Fate doesn’t come with a default setting, but it works best with any premise where the characters are proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives. We give more advice on how to bring that flavor to your games in the next chapter.


NEW TO FATE


What You Need to Play

Getting into a game of Fate is very simple. You need:

     The Deck of Fate is an alternative to Fate dice that will be available from Evil Hat. It’s a deck of cards that mimics the probability of Fate dice, and is designed to be used in the same way Fate dice are.


If you don’t want to use Fate dice, you don’t have to—any set of regular six-sided dice will work. If you’re using regular dice, you read 5 or 6 as +, 1 or 2 as -, and 3 or 4 as 0.


Players and Gamemasters

In any game of Fate, you’re either a player or a gamemaster.

If you’re a player, your primary job is to take responsibility for portraying one of the protagonists of the game, which we call a player character (or “PC” for short). You make decisions for your character and describe to everyone else what your character says and does. You’ll also take care of the mechanical side of your character—rolling dice when it’s appropriate, choosing what abilities to use in a certain situation, and keeping track of fate points.

If you’re a gamemaster, your primary job is to take responsibility for the world the PCs inhabit. You make decisions and roll dice for every character in the game world who isn’t portrayed by a player—we call those non-player characters (or “NPCs”). You describe the environments and places the PCs go to during the game, and you create the scenarios and situations they interact with. You also act as a final arbiter of the rules, determining the outcome of the PCs’ decisions and how that impacts the story as it unfolds.

Both players and gamemasters also have a secondary job: make everyone around you look awesome. Fate is best as a collaborative endeavor, with everyone sharing ideas and looking for opportunities to make the events as entertaining as possible.



The Character Sheet

Players, your character sheet contains everything you need to know about your PC—abilities, personality, significant background elements, and any other resources that character has to use in the game. Here’s an example of a Fate character sheet, so we can show you all the components.

[Insert your character sheet graphic here]

Aspects

Aspects are phrases that describe some significant detail about a character. They are the reasons why your character matters, why we’re interested in seeing your character in the game. Aspects can cover a wide range of elements, such as personality or descriptive traits, beliefs, relationships, issues and problems, or anything else that helps us invest in the character as a person, rather than just a collection of stats.

Aspects come into play in conjunction with fate points. When an aspect benefits you, you can spend fate points to invoke that aspect for a bonus. When your aspects complicate your character’s life, you gain fate points back—this is called accepting a compel.


Lily’s character, Cynere, has the aspect Tempted by Shiny Things on her sheet, which describes her general tendency to overvalue material goods and make bad decisions when gems and coin are involved. This adds an interesting, fun element to the character that gets her into a great deal of trouble, bringing a lot of personality to the game.


Aspects can describe things that are beneficial or detrimental—in fact, the best aspects are both.

And aspects don’t just belong to characters; the environment your characters are in can have aspects attached to it as well.

Skills

Skills are what you use during the game to do complicated or interesting actions with the dice. Each character has a number of skills that represent his or her basic capabilities, including things like perceptiveness, physical prowess, professional training, education, and other measures of ability.

At the beginning of the game, the player characters have skills rated in steps from Average (+1) to Great (+4). Higher is better, meaning that the character is more capable or succeeds more often when using that skill.

If for some reason you need to make a roll using a skill your character doesn’t have, you can always roll it at Mediocre (+0). There are a couple exceptions to this, like magic skills that most people don’t have at all. We’ll talk about skills in greater detail in their own chapter.


Zird the Arcane has the Lore skill at Great (+4), which makes him ideally suited to knowing a convenient, obscure fact and doing research. He does not have the Stealth skill, however, so when the game calls upon him to sneak up on someone (and Amanda will make sure it will), he’ll have to roll that at Mediocre (+0). Bad news for him.


Stunts

Stunts are special tricks that your character knows that allow you to get an extra benefit out of a skill or alter some other game rule to work in your favor. Stunts are like special moves in a video game, letting you do something unique or distinctive compared to other characters. Two characters can have the same rating in a skill, but their stunts might give them vastly different benefits.


Landon has a stunt called Another Round? It gives him a bonus to get information from someone with his Rapport skill, provided that he is drinking with his target in a tavern.


Stress

Stress is one of the two options you have to avoid losing a conflict—it represents temporary fatigue, getting winded, superficial injuries, and so on. You have a number of stress levels you can burn off to help keep you in a fight, and they reset at the end of a conflict, once you’ve had a moment to rest and catch your breath.

Consequences

Consequences are the other option you have to stay in a conflict, but they have a more lasting impact. Every time you take a consequence, it puts a new aspect on your sheet describing your injuries. Unlike stress, you have to take time to recover from a consequence, and it’s stuck on your character sheet in the meantime, which leaves your character vulnerable to complications or others wishing to take advantage of your new weakness.

Refresh

Refresh is the number of fate points you get at the start of every game session to spend for your character. Your total resets to this number unless you had more fate points at the end of the last session.

Taking Action

Players, some of the things you’ll do in a Fate game require you to roll dice to see if your character succeeds or not. You will always roll the dice when you’re opposing another character with your efforts, or when there’s a significant obstacle in the way of your effort. Otherwise, just say what your character does and assume it happens.

To overcome an obstacle

To create or unlock an advantage for your character, in the form of an aspect you can use

To attack someone in a conflict

To defend yourself in a conflict


Rolling the Dice

When you need to roll dice in Fate, pick up four Fate dice and roll them. When you read the dice, read every + as +1, every 0 as 0, and every - as –1. Add them all together. You’ll get a result from –4 to +4, most often between –2 and +2.

Here are some sample dice totals:

-+0+ = +1
+-00 =
+++- = +2
-000 = −1

The result on the dice isn’t your final total, however. If your character has a skill that’s appropriate to the action, you get to add your character’s rating in that skill to whatever you rolled.

So, once you’ve rolled the dice, how do you determine what a particular result means? Glad you asked.

The Ladder

In Fate, we use a ladder of adjectives and numbers to rate the dice results, a character’s skills and the result of a roll.

Here’s the ladder:

+8 Legendary
+7 Epic
+6 Fantastic
+5 Superb
+4 Great
+3 Good
+2 Fair
+1 Average
0 Mediocre
-1 Poor
-2 Terrible


It doesn’t really matter which side of the ladder you use—some people remember the words better, some people remember the numbers better, and some people like using both. So you could say, “I got a Great,” or “I got a +4,” and it means the same thing. As long as everyone understands what you’re communicating, you’re fine.

Results can go below and above the ladder. We encourage you to come up with your own names for results above Legendary, such as “Zounds!” and “Ridiculously Awesome.” We do.

Interpreting Results

When you roll the dice, you’re trying to get a high enough roll to match or beat your opposition. That opposition is going to come in one of two forms: active opposition, from someone rolling dice against you, or passive opposition, from an obstacle that just has a set rating on the ladder for you to overcome. (GMs, you can also just decide your NPCs give passive opposition when you don’t want to roll dice for them.)

Generally speaking, if you beat your opposition on the ladder, you succeed at your action. A tie creates some effect, but not to the extent your character was intending. If you win by a lot, something extra happens (like doing more harm to your opponent in a fight).

If you don’t beat the opposition, either you don’t succeed at your action, you succeed at a cost, or something else happens to complicate the outcome. Some game actions have special results when you fail at the roll.

When you beat a roll or a set obstacle, the difference between your opposition and your result is what we call shifts. When you roll equal to the opposition, you have zero shifts. Roll one over your opposition, and you have one shift. Two over means two shifts, and so on. Later in the book, we’ll talk about different instances where getting shifts on a roll benefits you.


Landon is trying to escape an ancient mechanical death trap he accidentally set off during a “routine” exploration of the Anthari Catacombs. Dozens of tiny (and some not-so-tiny) spears are shooting out of the walls in a certain hallway, and he needs to get past them to the other side.

Amanda, the GM, says, “This is passive opposition, because it’s just a trap in your way. It’s opposing you at Great (+4). The Anthari really didn’t want anyone getting to their temple treasure.”

Lenny sighs and says, “Well, I’ve got Athletics at Good (+3), so I’ll try dodging and weaving through them to cross the hall.”

He takes up the dice and rolls, getting -+++, for a result of +2. This steps up his result on the ladder by two, from Good (+3) to Superb (+5). That’s enough to beat the opposition by one shift and succeed.

Amanda says, “Well, it takes equal parts acrobatics and frantic stumbling, but you manage to make it through to the other side with only some cosmetic tears in your tunic to show for it. The mechanism shows no sign of stopping, though—you’ll still have to deal with it on your way out.”

Lenny replies, “Just another day at the office,” and Landon continues his trek through the catacombs.


Fate Points

You use tokens to represent how many fate points you have at any given time during play. Fate points are one of your most important resources in Fate—they’re a measure of how much influence you have to make the story go in your character’s favor.

You can spend fate points to invoke an aspect, to declare a story detail, or to activate certain powerful stunts.

You earn fate points by accepting a compel on one of your aspects.

A word of warning: don’t use edible things as tokens, especially if the food hasn’t arrived yet.

Invoking an Aspect

Whenever you’re making a skill roll, and you’re in a situation where an aspect might be able to help you, you can spend a fate point to invoke it in order to change the dice result. This allows you to either reroll the dice or add +2 to your roll, whichever is more helpful. (Typically, +2 is a good choice if you rolled –2 or higher, but sometimes you want to risk a reroll to get that +4.) You do this after you’ve rolled the dice—if you aren’t happy with your total.

You also have to explain or justify how the aspect is helpful in order to get the bonus—sometimes it’ll be self-evident, and sometimes it might require some creative narrating.

You can spend more than one fate point on a single roll, gaining another reroll or an additional +2, as long as each point you spend invokes a different aspect.


Cynere is trying to covertly goad a merchant into describing the security features of his personal vault by posing as a visiting dignitary. The merchant is giving her passive opposition at Good (+3), and her Deceive skill is Fair (+2).

Lily rolls. She breaks even, getting a 0. That leaves her result at Fair, not enough to get the information she wants.

She looks at her character sheet, then to Amanda, and says, “You know, long years of being Tempted by Shiny Things has taught me a thing or two about what’s in a treasure hoard and what’s not. I’m going to impress this merchant by talking about the rarest, most prized elements of his collection.”

Amanda grins and nods. Lily hands over a fate point to invoke the aspect, and gets to add +2 to her standing roll. This brings her result to a Great (+4), which exceeds the opposition. The duly impressed merchant starts to brag about his vault, and Cynere listens intently....


Declaring a Story Detail

Sometimes, you want to add a detail that works to your character’s advantage in a scene. For example, you might use this to narrate a convenient coincidence, like retroactively having the right supplies for a certain job (“Of course I brought that along!”), showing up at a dramatically appropriate moment, or suggesting that you and the NPC you just met have mutual clients in common.

To do this, you’ll spend a fate point. You should try to justify your story details by relating them to your aspects. GMs, you have the right to veto any suggestions that seem out of scope or ask the player to revise them, especially if the rest of the group isn’t buying into it.

Zird the Arcane gets captured with his friends by some tribesfolk from the Sagroth Wilds. The three heroes are unceremoniously dumped before the chieftain, and Amanda describes the chieftain addressing them in a strange, guttural tongue.

Ryan looks at his sheet and says, “Hey, I have If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It on my sheet. Can I declare that I’ve studied this language at some point, so we can communicate?”

Amanda thinks that’s perfectly reasonable to assume. Ryan tosses over a fate point and describes Zird answering in the chieftain’s own speech, which turns all eyes in the village (including those of his friends) on him in a moment of surprise.

Ryan has Zird look at his friends and say, “Books. They’re good for you.”


Compels

Sometimes (in fact, probably often), you’ll find yourself in a situation where an aspect complicates your character’s life and creates unexpected drama. When that happens, the GM will suggest a potential complication that might arise. This is called a compel.

Sometimes, a compel means your character automatically fails at some goal, or your character’s choices are restricted, or simply that unintended consequences cloud whatever your character does. You might negotiate back and forth on the details a little, to arrive at what would be most appropriate and dramatic in the moment.

Once you’ve agreed to accept the complication, you get a fate point for your troubles. If you want, you can pay a fate point to prevent the complication from happening, but we don’t recommend you do that very often—you’ll probably need that fate point later, and getting compelled brings drama (and hence, fun) into your game’s story.

Players, you’re going to call for a compel when you want there to be a complication in a decision you’ve just made, if it’s related to one of your aspects. GMs, you’re going to call for a compel when you make the world respond to the characters in a complicated or dramatic way.

Anyone at the table is free to suggest when a compel might be appropriate for any character (including their own). GMs, you have the final word on whether or not a compel is valid. And speak up if you see that a compel happened naturally as a result of play, but no fate points were awarded.


Landon has the aspect The Manners of a Goat. He is attending the annual Grand Ball in Ictherya with his friends, courtesy of the royal court.

Amanda tells the players, “As you’re milling about, a sharply dressed young lady catches Landon sticking out of the crowd. She observes him for a while, then goes to engage him in conversation, obviously intrigued by how different he looks among all the stuffy nobles.” She turns to Lenny. “What do you do?”

Lenny says, “Uh... well, I guess I’ll ask her to dance and play along, see what I can find out about her.”

Amanda holds up a fate point and says, “And is that going to go wrong, given Landon’s excellent command of courtly etiquette?”

Lenny chuckles and replies, “Yeah, I presume Landon will offend her pretty quickly, and that’ll get complicated. I’ll take the fate point.”

Amanda and Lenny play a bit to figure out just how Landon puts his foot in his mouth, and then Amanda describes some of the royal guard showing up. One of them says, “You might want to watch how you speak to the High Duchess of Ictherya, outlander.”

Lenny shakes his head. Amanda grins the grin of the devil.


Start Playing!

These are the basic things you need to know to play Fate. The following chapters go into greater detail on everything we’ve covered above, and will show you how to get your game off the ground.



2

GAME CREATION

What Makes a Good Fate Game?

You can use Fate to tell stories in many different genres, with a variety of premises. There is no default setting; you and your group will make that up yourselves. The very best Fate games, however, have certain ideas in common with one another, which we think best showcase what the game is designed to do.

Whether you’re talking about fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, or gritty cop shows, Fate works best when you use it to tell stories about people who are proactivecompetent, and dramatic.

Proactivity

Characters in a game of Fate should be proactive. They have a variety of abilities that lend themselves to active problem solving, and they aren’t timid about using them. They don’t sit around waiting for the solution to a crisis to come to them—they go out and apply their energies, taking risks and overcoming obstacles to achieve their goals.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t ever plan or strategize, or that they’re all careless to a fault. It just means that even the most patient among them will eventually rise and take action in a tangible, demonstrable way.

Any Fate game you play should give a clear opportunity for the characters to be proactive in solving their problems, and have a variety of ways they might go about it. A game about librarians spending all their time among dusty tomes and learning things isn’t Fate. A game about librarians using forgotten knowledge to save the world is.

Competence

Characters in a game of Fate are good at things. They aren’t bumbling fools who routinely look ridiculous when they’re trying to get things done—they’re highly skilled, talented, or trained individuals who are capable of making visible change in the world they inhabit. They are the right people for the job, and they get involved in a crisis because they have a good chance of being able to resolve it for the better.

This doesn’t mean they always succeed, or that their actions are without unintended consequence. It just means that when they fail, it isn’t because they made dumb mistakes or weren’t prepared for the risks.

Any Fate game that you play should treat the characters like competent people, worthy of the risks and challenges that come their way. A game about garbage men who are forced to fight supervillains and get their asses constantly handed to them isn’t Fate. A game about garbage men who become an awesome anti-supervillain hit squad is.

Drama

Characters in a game of Fate lead dramatic lives. The stakes are always high for them, both in terms of what they have to deal with in their world, and what they’re dealing with in the six inches of space between their ears. Like us, they have interpersonal troubles and struggle with their issues, and though the external circumstances of their lives might be a lot bigger in scope than what we go through, we can still relate to and sympathize with them.

This doesn’t mean they spend all their time wallowing in misery and pain, or that everything in their lives is always a world-shaking crisis. It just means that their lives require them to make hard choices and live with the consequences—in other words, that they’re essentially human.

Any Fate game that you play should provide the potential and opportunity for drama among and between the characters, and give you a chance to relate to them as people. A game about adventurers mindlessly punching increasing numbers of bigger, badder bad guys is not Fate. A game about adventurersstruggling to lead normal lives despite being destined to fight ultimate evil is.




Setting Up Your Game

The first step in setting up your Fate game is to decide what sort of people the protagonists are and what sort of world surrounds them. Your decisions here will tell you virtually everything you need to know to get the ball rolling: what the protagonists are good at, what they may or may not care about, what problems they’re likely to get into, what kind of impact these characters have on the world, and so on. You don’t need complete answers (because that’s part of the point of playing the game), but you should have enough of an idea that answering those questions doesn’t draw a blank.

First, we’ll start by talking about your setting. We’ll handle the specifics on the protagonists later, in Character Creation.

Making the Setting Work in Fate

Decide what the world that surrounds the protagonists is like.

You’re probably already familiar with the idea of a setting, but in short, it’s everything that the characters interact with, such as people, organizations and institutions, technology, strange phenomena, and mysteries (crime, intrigue, and cosmic or historical legend). These are the sort of things that characters want to engage with, are forced to engage with, look to for help, or stand in their way.

If you’re using a setting that already exists, from a movie, novel, or other game book, then many of these ideas are ready for you to use. Of course, you’ll also likely add your own spin on things: new organizations or different mysteries to uncover.

If you’re inventing a setting, you have more work cut out for you. It’s beyond the scope of this chapter to tell you how to make a setting; we’re assuming you already know how to do that if that’s what you’re choosing to do. (Besides, we live in a vast world of media. See tvtropes.org if you don’t believe us.) One word of advice, though—don’t try to invent too much up front. As you’ll see over the course of the chapter, you’re going to be generating a lot of ideas just through the process of game and character creation, so the details will come in time.


Amanda, Lenny, Lily, and Ryan sit down to talk about the setting. They’re all jonesing for a low fantasy game, as Lenny and Lily have recently read some of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. So they pitch “two guys and a girl with swords.” The world is “vaguely medieval, Earth with the serial numbers filed off.”

Ryan suggests “guy and girl with swords, and guy without a sword” so that there’s a difference between the two guys. Also, because he wants to play someone who is more bookish (for contrast). Everyone’s on board with this, and they move on.


A Game’s Scale

Decide how epic or personal your story will be.

The setting might be small or it might be vast, but where your stories take place determines the scale of your game.

In a small-scale game, characters deal with problems in a city or region, they don’t travel a great deal, and the problems are local. A large-scale game involves dealing with problems that affect a world, a civilization, or even a galaxy if the genre you’re playing in can handle that kind of thing. (Sometimes, a small-scale game will turn into a large-scale one over time, as you’ve probably seen in long-running novel series or television shows.)


Amanda likes the vibe of “guy and girl with sword,” and thinks it’ll shine as a small-scale game, where they might travel from town to town, but the problems they have to deal with are local—like a thieves’ guild or the regent’s vile machinations.



The Setting’s Big Issues

Decide what threats and pressures inherent to the setting will spur the protagonists to action.

Every setting needs to have something going on that the characters care about, often a peril they want to fight or undermine. These are the setting’s issues.

You’ll come up with two issues as a group and write them down on index cards or a game creation worksheet. These issues are aspects and will be available to invoke or compel throughout the entirety of the game.

The issues should reflect the scale of your game and what the characters will face. They’re broad ideas; they don’t just affect your characters, but many people in the world. Issues take two forms:


Game and character creation involve making aspects. If you’re new to Fate, read over the Aspects and Fate Points chapter.

The default number of issues in a Fate game is two: Either two current issues (for a story solely about trying to make the world a better place), two impending issues (for a story about striving to save people from threats), or one of each. The latter option is common in fiction: think about the stalwart heroes who work against some impending doom while already discontent with the world around them.



The group thinks about the sort of problems they want to deal with in the world. Ryan immediately says “organized crime,” and they flesh that out a little. They come up with the idea of “The Scar Triad,” a group of thugs who are known for thievery, extortion, and other nasty things that the world could do without. This is clearly a current issue.

Lily wants the story to also be about something on the verge of happening, something Really Bad. They come up with an impending issue: a vile cult that seeks to summon something horrible into the world (which means they’re also saying that their setting includes horrible, Lovecraft-inspired things). Lenny calls it “The Doom that Is to Come,” and Ryan really likes this idea because it gives his bookish character a hook into things going on in the world.


Making the Issues into Aspects

As we said earlier, issues are aspects. Turn the ideas you have into aspects that you could conceivably use at different times in the story (often as compels to the protagonists or as invocations for foes, but clever players will always find other uses for aspects). Write them down, and then if you need to add a little bit to remember the context or some details, write those down alongside the aspects.


Amanda writes down The Scar Triad and The Doom that Is to Come as two game aspects. She notes down next to The Scar Triad, “They’re into racketeering and other nasty stuff.” And with The Doom that Is to Come, “Led by the Cult of Tranquility.”


If you’re new to making aspects, hold off on this for now. You’ll get quite a bit of practice making aspects for your characters. Once you’re done with character creation, turn these issue ideas into aspects.





Drilling Down

You can also use issues to flesh out smaller, but nonetheless important pieces of your setting. An important location (a major city or nation, or even a memorable local restaurant) or organization (a knightly order, a king’s court, or a corporation) can have impending and/or current issues as well.

We recommend you start by giving only one issue to each setting element, just to keep things from getting too bogged down, but you can always add more as the campaign progresses. Likewise, you don’t have to do this right now—if you find a setting element becoming more important later in the game, you can give it issues then.


The Cult of Tranquility keeps popping up in pre-game discussions, so the group decides that it also needs an issue. After some discussion, the group decides it’d be interesting if there was some tension in the cult’s ranks, and makes a current issue called “Two Conflicting Prophecies”—different branches of the cult have different ideas of what the doom is going to be.



Faces and Places

Decide who the important people and locations are.

At this point, you’ve probably got your issues figured out, and you may have thought of some organizations or groups that feature prominently in your game.

Now you have to put some faces on those issues and those groups, so that your PCs have people to interact with when they’re dealing with those elements. Do they have any particular people who represent them, or stand out as exemplars of what the issue’s referring to? If you have any ideas at this point, write them down on an index card: a name, a relationship to the organization or issue, and an aspect detailing their significance to the story.

Do the same for any notable places in your setting. Are there any important places where things happen, either important to the world, important to an issue, or important to the protagonists? If there’s a place where you envision multiple scenes taking place, then talk about that. Unlike NPCs, they don’t require aspects.

The GM may flesh these characters and places out later, depending on their role in the story. Or one of these ideas might be a great inspiration for a protagonist! And, of course, new ones will unfold as the story progresses.

If there’s a piece of your setting that’s meant to be a mystery which the protagonists uncover, define it only in loose terms. The specifics can be detailed as they are revealed in play.


After a few minutes of discussion, the group writes down:

They could go on, but they know they’ll have more ideas after character creation and as they play. That’s just enough to paint a picture of what’s going on at the very beginning of the story.


Make Characters

Each player makes a protagonist.

You can make player characters after finishing game creation, or you can do it in the middle of this process—follow your instincts here. If you find yourself talking more about the characters than the world, go to character creation and then float back around to whatever parts of game creation you haven’t done yet. Otherwise, go ahead and finish out all of game creation first.

It’s worth noting that the protagonists should have some connections to the faces and places you named in the previous step. If it’s difficult to relate the characters to the setting, then you may want to rethink your protagonists or revise your game so it will make a better fit for the new characters.

When you’re making characters, you’ll also discover a bit more about the setting as people talk about who their characters know and what their characters do. If anything comes up that should be added to your game creation notes, do so before pushing forward with playing the game.




3

CHARACTER CREATION

Character Creation Is Play

The moment you sit down to make the game and characters, you’re playing Fate. This style of character creation does three things to reinforce that.

First, character creation tells part of the characters’ stories, just like any other game session does. Characters that really come alive have histories of their own and with each other. This establishes where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and why they continue to act against the issues they face, together or in opposition. There’s an ongoing story you’re now stepping into—it’s just that the most interesting parts haven’t happened yet.

Second, it sets the stage for the next part of the story. Each arc of a story sets up the next, so that they flow into one another in a natural evolution. Character creation needs to set up the first story arc.

Third, character creation in Fate is collaborative. As with game creation, character creation is best done as a group activity. Doing all of this together builds a strong foundation of communication between the players and GM, and this process has a number of ways to establish connections between the characters and the setting.

Combined with game creation, character creation can take a full session to do—this allows everyone to learn about the world and each other’s characters. You and the other players will talk about your characters, make suggestions to each other, discuss how they connect, and establish more of the setting.

You’ll want to keep good notes on this process. You can use the character sheet and character creation worksheet in the back of this book or downloadable at FateRPG.com.

Start by determining your character’s high concept and trouble. Then build your character’s backstory, a process that takes place over three phases. Once you have that figured out, flesh out your character’s skills and stunts. Then you’re ready to play!



Your Character Idea

Come up with your character’s high concept and trouble aspects.

Character creation starts with a concept for your character. It could be modeled after a character from a favorite novel or movie, or it could be based around some specific thing that you want to be able to do (like break boards with your head, turn into a wolf, blow things up, etc.). Just like you did with the game’s issues earlier, you’re going to take your ideas and turn them into the two central aspects for your character—high concept and trouble.

Player characters should be exceptional and interesting. They could very easily find success in less exciting situations than those that come their way in play. You must figure out why your character is going to keep getting involved in these more dangerous things. If you don’t, the GM is under no obligation to go out of her way to make the game work for you—she’ll be too busy with other players who made characters that have a reason to participate.



Because picking a high concept and trouble are linked, they’re grouped together. You’ll likely have more success coming up with a compelling character idea if you think about them as one big step rather than two separate steps. Only after you have that (and a name, of course!) can you move on to the rest of character creation.

That said, don’t worry too much—if your character idea evolves later on, that’s great! You can always go back and tinker with the early decisions.



High Concept

Your high concept is a phrase that sums up what your character is about—who he is and what he does. It’s an aspect, one of the first and most important ones for your character.

Think of this aspect like your job, your role in life, or your calling—it’s what you’re good at, but it’s also a duty you have to deal with, and it’s constantly filled with problems of its own. That is to say, it comes with some good and some bad. There are a few different directions you can take this:

These aren’t the only ways to play with your high concept, but they’ll get you started. But don’t stress out over it—the worst thing you can do is make it into too big of a deal. You’ll come up with four other aspects after this one—you don’t have to get it all nailed right now.



High concepts can have overlap among the characters, as long as you have something to distinguish how your character is different from the others. If high concepts must be similar among all the characters, such as if the GM pitches an all-swordsmen story, it’s crucial that the troubles differ.


Lenny and Lily settled on the “guy and girl with sword” idea, and Ryan’s going with “guy without sword.” But those are just starting ideas. Now it’s time to turn them into proper high concepts.

Lenny latches onto the idea of tying his concept to an organization, and starts with “Disciple of…something.” He envisions a character who has trained in some mysterious martial art, and that involves rival schools and foes that want to learn those secrets. The group helps him come up with a suitably mysterious name: Disciple of the Ivory Shroud. (And now we’ve made a bit more setting: there’s an Ivory Shroud, mysterious martial arts, and all that implies.)

Lily, on the other hand, doesn’t really know where to go from “girl with sword.” She’s not interested in the organization thing, so she’s thinking about adjectives. Eventually, she settles on Infamous Girl with Sword. (Keeping the “girl with sword” part makes her giggle, so she wants to say it often during the game.)

Ryan’s idea of “bookish guy without sword” would be a pretty dull aspect. He thinks about what’s been declared so far: an evil cult who can summon Bad Things and a mysterious martial arts school. So he asks “hey, can I be a wizard?” They talk a bit about what that means, so that being a wizard doesn’t overshadow the swordsmen and isn’t a weak idea. After that, he writes down Wizard for Hire.


Trouble

In addition to a high concept, every character has some sort of trouble aspect that’s a part of his life and story. If your high concept is what or who your character is, your trouble is the answer to a simple question: what complicates your character’s existence?

Trouble brings chaos into a character’s life and drives him into interesting situations. Trouble aspects are broken up into two types: personal struggles and problematic relationships.

Your trouble shouldn’t be easy to solve. If it was, your character would have done that already, and that’s not interesting. But nor should it paralyze the character completely. If the trouble is constantly interfering with the character’s day-to-day life, he’s going to spend all his time dealing with it rather than other matters at hand. You shouldn’t have to deal with your trouble at every turn—unless that’s the core of one particular adventure in the story (and even then, that’s just one adventure).

Troubles also shouldn’t be directly related to your high concept—if you have Lead Detective, saying your trouble is The Criminal Underworld Hates Me is a dull trouble, because we already assume that with your high concept. (Of course, you can turn that up a notch to make it personal, like Don Giovanni Personally Hates Me, to make it work.)

Before you go any further, talk with the GM about your character’s trouble. Make sure you’re both on the same page in terms of what it means. Both of you may want to find one way this aspect might be invoked or compelled to make sure you’re both seeing the same things—or to give each other ideas. The GM should come away from this conversation knowing what you want out of your trouble.



Lenny wants to contrast the whole “I know an ancient martial art” vibe. He’s not playing an ascetic monk or anything like that. So he wants something that will get him into social trouble, something that has to do with him and not with any specific people or organizations. So he writes down The Manners of a Goat. His character will unconsciously make an ass of himself.

Lily likes this idea of her character being her own worst enemy, so she’s also going for a personal struggle. She’s had the idea for a while of playing someone who can’t help but be Tempted by Shiny Things, so she writes that down.

After seeing the other two go for personal struggles, Ryan wants to add a bit to the setting by having a problematic relationship trouble. He wants something that’s involved with his high concept, someone he can’t just fight openly against—he wants to see intrigue in his story. So he writes downRivals in the Collegia Arcana (which also names a group of people in the setting, that Ryan’s character is a part of).




Name

If you haven’t already, it’s time to give your character a name!


Lenny names his character “Landon,” a name that’s been in his head for years. He used it years ago for another roleplaying game, and decides to bring it back for nostalgia’s sake.

Lily names her character “Cynere,” which is Greek for “thistle.” She sees Cynere as a beautiful plant, but one that’ll prick you if you get too close. That fits nicely.

Ryan names his character “Zird,” because it just hit his mind as an appropriately ridiculous wizardly name. Then he pauses for a moment before adding “…the Arcane,” because he sees Zird as the sort of guy who would demand to be known as “Zird the Arcane.”


The Phase Trio

Describe your character’s first adventure. Describe how you’ve crossed paths with two other characters. Write down one aspect for each of these three experiences.

Important: Before moving on to this step, you need to have figured out your high concept, trouble, and name.

The three remaining aspects on your character are made in phases, together called the phase trio. The first phase is about recent background: something you did that’s interesting and adventurous. The second and third are about how the other player characters got involved in that adventure, and how you got involved in theirs.

This is an opportunity to tell a story about your characters. Each phase will ask you to write down two things. Use the character creation worksheet (at the back of this book, or at FateRPG.com) to write down those details.



Phase One: Your Adventure

The first phase is your character’s first true adventure—his first book, episode, case, movie, whatever—starring him.

You need to think up and write down the basic details of this story for the phase’s summary. The story doesn’t need to have a lot of detail—in fact, a pair of sentences works pretty well—because your fellow players will add in their own details to this past adventure in the next two phases (as you will to theirs).

If you find yourself stuck, look to your character’s high concept and trouble. Find a dilemma that has a chance of throwing those ideas into focus. What problem do you get roped into because of your high concept or trouble? How does the other aspect help or complicate your life?


Landon gets into a bar fight with some of the Scar Triad. He is robbed of his sword and beaten severely. His life is saved by a veteran soldier named Old Finn. Finn helps to heal Landon, clean him up, and enlist him in the town militia.

* I Owe Old Finn Everything


Ask yourself the following story questions. If you have trouble answering them, talk to the other players and the GM for help.

Once you’ve come up with the adventure, write an aspect that relates to some part of what happened.

A note on timing: Because two other characters will be involved in the following phases, this adventure needs to be something that isn’t so early in your character’s life that he hasn’t met the other protagonists yet. If one of you has decided that you recently showed up in the story, then the adventures involving that person happened recently. If some of you have been friends (or old rivals!) for a long time, then those adventures can take place further in the past. Your best bet is to not make these adventures specific in time; you can figure out that part once you know who’s involved in your story.


Lenny goes through Phase One. He looks at the story questions to help him figure out the events of the phase, and decides on the following:

The bad thing was that Landon kept getting into scrapes at his local tavern. He grew up with no sense of discipline or demeanor and constantly picked fights with people larger and stronger than him.

One thug Landon insulted at the tavern was connected to the Scar Triad, so some of the thug’s bandit buddies showed up and beat Landon to within an inch of his life.

His bleeding body was then found by a veteran soldier named Finn who healed Landon’s wounds and encouraged him to join the town militia where he could learn some discipline and fight with honor.

Now Lenny has to write down an aspect related to this story. He decides to take I Owe Old Finn Everything as his aspect, because he wants to keep the connection to Finn in his story and give Amanda a cool NPC to play.



As with the high concept and trouble aspects, this (and the following phases) are further opportunities to flesh out the setting.

Phase Two: Crossing Paths

In the next two phases, you’ll tie the group together by having other characters contribute a minor, supporting role in your adventure, and vice versa.

Once everyone has their adventure written down (which is where our index card suggestion comes in really handy), you’re ready for phase two. You can pass to the left or right, or shuffle the stack and hand them out randomly (trading with the person to your right until you each have one that isn’t yours). However you decide to do it, every player should now be holding someone else’s adventure.

Your character has a supporting role in the story you’re holding, which you get to come up with right now. Briefly discuss it with the player whose adventure it is and add a sentence or phrase to the summary to reflect your character’s supporting role. Supporting roles come in three forms: they complicate the adventure, solve a situation, or both.


The default phase trio prioritizes connecting the characters together in a shared backstory. We like this, because it’s cooperative and gets you talking to one another. That’s not the only way to do it, though. You could make any significant trifecta of backstory details into a phase trio. Your past, your present, and your hope for the future is another set of trio elements. The Fate System Toolkit has more examples of phase work.

The idea is to be a bit self-serving here. You want to put a little spotlight on your character in order to figure out a good aspect from it: something you’re known for, something you can do, something you own or have, and someone you have a relationship with (for good or ill).

Finally, write the adventure idea and your character’s contribution down on your phase worksheet. This is important, because your character gets an aspect from the supporting role he played. The person whose adventure it is should also write down the contribution, if there’s room on his sheet.


Lily has Landon’s starting adventure and needs to decide how she fits into it.

She decides that Cynere helped solve the situation. After Landon ends up in the militia, he still has a grudge against the Triad members who ganged up on him. In fact, they robbed him of his heirloom sword in the process. Hearing Landon’s tale of woe, Cynere agrees to help steal the sword back.

She takes the aspect A Sucker for a Sob Story, to reflect the reason why she got involved.


Landon gets into a bar fight with some of the Scar Triad. He is robbed of his sword and beaten severely. His life is saved by a veteran soldier named Old Finn. Finn helps to heal Landon, clean him up, and enlist him in the town militia.


* I Owe Old Finn Everything

When Landon tells Cynere his story, she takes pity on him and decides to help him recover his lost sword.


* A Sucker for a Sob Story


Phase Three: Crossing Paths Again

Once everyone’s done with phase two, you’ll trade adventures with whatever method you chose before, so long as everyone has an adventure that isn’t theirs or the one they just contributed to. Then you’re ready for phase three, where you’ll contribute to this second adventure and determine your next aspect. Follow the directions from phase two.


Lily gets Zird’s starting adventure, a pretty straightforward romp where Zird battles his Collegia rivals to obtain a magical artifact and return it to its rightful place.

She decides that she complicates that situation, by wanting the shiny artifact for herself. Ryan already established that Zird gets the artifact back to where it belongs, so she only holds it temporarily.

She decides to take I’ve Got Zird’s Back, as a way of reflecting her willingness to stick her neck out for Zird—the group doesn’t know what he did to earn such loyalty, but they figure they’ll find out eventually.


And with that, you have your five aspects and a good chunk of background!




Skills

Pick and rate your character’s skills.

Once you have mapped out your character’s phases and chosen aspects, it’s time to pick skills. You’ll find descriptions and details for each skill in the Skills and Stunts chapter.

Your skills form a pyramid, with a single skill rated at Great (+4)—which we’ll usually refer to as the peak skill—and more skills at each lower rating on the ladder going down to Average (+1):


FOR VETERANS: WHY THE PYRAMID?



Mediocre (+0) is the default for any skill you do not take. Sometimes, a skill will state that it’s unavailable if a character didn’t take it; in those cases, it’s not even at Mediocre.


Ryan knows that Zird’s not like the other PCs in terms of skills, so he looks to distance Zird from them as much as possible. The group has decided that Zird’s magic is going to work off his Lore skill, so he’s naturally going to focus on that.

He takes Lore as Zird’s peak skill, followed by Crafts and Rapport—for a wizard, Zird considers himself a fairly social sort. Ryan takes Athletics, Will, and Investigate because he figures Zird will need them in his line of work, and a smattering of other skills either because neither of his friends have them, or because he wants a positive score in them when everyone’s separated. That ends up being Fight, Resources, Contacts, and Notice.


Note: a few skills have special benefits, notably those skills that affect the number of stress boxes and consequences you have available. If you know you want a certain number of those, put those skills on the pyramid first.

Stunts and Refresh

Pick or invent three to five stunts. Determine how many fate points you start play with.

Stunts change how skills work for your character. Picking and inventing stunts are covered in the Skills and Stunts chapter.

You get three stunts for free, and you can take up to two more stunts at the cost of lowering your refresh by one each. (The gist is this: the more cool tricks you can do, the more you’ll need to accept compels to get fate points.) Figuring out stunts can take a while, so you may want to pick one for now and determine the rest of them during play.


Lily decides to take the Warmaster stunt as one of her freebies: +2 to Fight rolls made to create an advantage against an opponent, provided the opponent has a fighting style or weakness she can exploit.

For her remaining free stunts, she picks Second-Story Girl and Danger Sense. You can see the write-ups for these on her character sheet.


Adjusting Refresh

A player character in Fate starts with a refresh of 3. That means he’ll start each session off with at least 3 fate points.

If you pick four stunts, your refresh is 2. If you pick five stunts, your refresh is 1.

Note: some Fate games will change this setup. Regardless of how stunts work in your game, you can never have a refresh lower than 1.


You can adjust these defaults if you want to, and give out more free stunts if you want the PCs to have a lot of cool tricks and special bonuses. You can also change the default refresh rate—higher refresh means that the PCs won’t need to take compels as often (think 4-color superhero comics), and lower refresh means they’ll need to take several early in every session in order to have a decent supply (think Die Hard). Also, the higher your refresh, the more likely it is that players will buy stunts.


Stress and Consequences

Determine how much of a beating your character can take.

When Fate characters find themselves in harm’s way—a fairly common occurrence when you’re highly competent, proactive, and facing drama at every turn—they have two ways to stand their ground and stay on their feet: stress and consequences.

The Conflicts section of the Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts chapter fully explains what these mean and how they’re used. In brief, stress represents the ephemeral toll of participating in a conflict, whereas consequences are the lingering effects, and sometimes quite traumatic ones, of taking harm.

Every PC has two different stress tracks. The physical stress track deals with physical harm, and themental stress track mitigates mental harm. The more boxes in a stress track, the more resilient the character is in that regard. By default, a character has two boxes in each stress track.

Every PC also has three  consequence slots. One is mild, one is moderate, and the last one is severe. Unlike stress, these aren’t classified as either physical or mental—any of them can apply to any type of harm. As mentioned above, consequences are the injuries and traumas you can’t just shake off after the dust settles.

Certain skills and some stunts can add to these defaults. See the Skills and Stunts chapter for more on that. For the sake of quick reference, these are the skills in Hearts of Steel that alter stress and consequences:

Physique helps with physical stress, and Will helps with mental stress. Either skill grants one more stress box of the respective type (physical or mental) if rated at Average (+1) or Fair (+2), or two more stress boxes if rated at Good (+3) or higher. At Superb (+5) or higher, they also grant an additional mild consequence slot. Unlike the standard three, this consequence slot is specifically restricted to either physical harm (Physique) or mental harm (Will).

Note: if you’re playing in a setting with different skills, the skills that affect stress boxes and consequences may change. Take a note of those skill benefits when you’re making your character.


You can add stress tracks if the characters in your game suffer unique kinds of harm, such as wealth stress in a very political game. Changing the number of boxes will slow down and draw out conflicts, which may be more appropriate for high-octane, pulpy genres where characters are expected to take a lot of hits.


Landon has Good (+3) Physique, which nets him two more physical stress boxes. His Will, however, is only Average (+1), but that’s still good enough for one more mental stress box.

Cynere’s Physique is Fair (+2), so she gets a third physical stress box. But her mental stress track remains at two boxes, thanks to her Mediocre (+0) Will.

Zird the Arcane, being a rather bookish type, has Mediocre (+0) Physique, so he has only the default physical stress track of two boxes. His Fair (+2) Will, though, is good for one bonus mental stress box.

Because none of these characters has Physique or Will rated at Superb (+5) or above, each has the default number of consequences: one mild, one moderate, and one severe.


You’re All Set!

At the end of this process, you should have a character with:

Now you’re ready to play!

GMs, see the Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios chapter for advice on how to take the aspects from the PCs’ sheets and from game creation and turn those into thrilling scenarios for the players to experience.

Players, check out the next chapter for more on how to use your aspects, or jump straight to Actions and Outcomes to learn more about how to use your skills to do stuff.

Quick Character Creation

If you want to skip making a detailed character and just want to play, you can leave most of the character blank and fill in as you play.

At minimum, you need to have the following filled out to start:

When it comes to your high concept, you can start off vague and refine the aspect later. Guy with Swordis an okay high concept for this method, and later you might discover something about your character that puts a spin on it. When that happens, rewrite the aspect to reflect that spin.

You should know your best skill to start—that gives us further ideas about your character. If you have any other thoughts on skills, either skills you’re good at or skills you’re bad at, write those down. (Since you don’t normally write down any skills you have at lower than Average (+1), just make a note on your sheet about those skills you’re intentionally saying you don’t have.)

And, of course, you need a name! Maybe a first name is all you need for the moment, or a nickname. (There’s also the trick of giving yourself a name, only to later reveal that you’ve been hiding, are undercover, or have amnesia, and write down what your real name is.)

Starting Play

With this method, you start with 3 refresh, so you’ll start playing with 3 fate points.

After the first session is over, if you’re planning on playing your character again, you should take time to fill in the rest of the aspects, skills, and stunts.

Filling Aspects in Play

Unless you immediately have an idea for your trouble aspect, you’ll fill that in later. With the other three aspects, since you’re skipping the Phase Trio, you’ll just make up whatever aspect seems interesting to you at the moment. Typically you’ll do this when you need an aspect on your character to achieve something, or you want to turn a situation that’s happening into something that’s compel-worthy.

As with high concept, don’t stress about getting this aspect dead-on. After the session’s over, take some time to look over and tweak the aspects you’ve created on the fly.

Filling Skills in Play

At any point, if you are using a skill that isn’t on your character sheet, one of two things happens: you’ll assume the skill is Mediocre (+0), or you’ll write it down on one of your empty skill slots and roll it at that level. This choice exists until all of your skill slots are filled in.

If you roll for a skill not on your sheet and choose to go with Mediocre rather than write it down, you can later fill it in on your sheet as something higher. For example, you might be called to roll Lore, and choose to roll it at Mediocre. Later, you might be called to roll it again, and this time you choose to fill it in at Fair (+2).

Likewise, if you roll well on a skill when you chose to take it at Mediocre, maybe that’ll inspire you to take that skill later.

Since some skills have secondary benefits, notably adjusting your stress track and consequences, you can fill those in when you want to declare your character has such a benefit. Until then, you don’t have those benefits, as you’re assumed to have that skill at Mediocre.

Filling Stunts in Play

You get three stunts for free, which you can fill in at any time. You can fill in other stunts at any time, but you must pay a fate point for each one to do so. That’s because your refresh tells you how many fate points you start the game with, so by taking a stunt, you should have started with fewer.

If you’re out of fate points, but want to note down a stunt you have because you’re suddenly struck with the idea, do so. But your character doesn’t actually have it until you gain a fate point and spend it.

You’ll also need to reduce your refresh by one for the next session for each extra stunt you take.

4

DEFINING ASPECTS

An aspect is a phrase that describes something unique or noteworthy about whatever it’s attached to. They’re the primary way you spend and gain fate points, and they influence the story by providing an opportunity for a character to get a bonus, complicating a character’s life, or adding to another character’s roll or passive opposition.

DEFINING FATE POINTS

GMs and players, you both have a pool of points called fate points you can use to influence the game. You represent these with tokens, as we mentioned in The Basics. Players, you start with a certain number of points every scenario, equal to your character’s refresh. You’ll also reset to your refresh rate if you ended a mid-scenario session with fewer fate points than your rate. GMs, you get a budget of fate points to spend in every scene.

When your aspects come into play, you will usually spend or gain a fate point.

TYPES OF ASPECTS

Every game of Fate has a few different kinds of aspects: game aspects, character aspects, situation aspects, consequences, and boosts. They mainly differ from one another in terms of what they’re attached to and how long they last.

Game Aspects

Game aspects are permanent fixtures of the game, hence the name. While they might change over time, they’re never going to go away. If you’ve already gone through game creation, you’ve already defined these—the current or impending issues that you came up with. They describe problems or threats that exist in the world, which are going to be the basis for your game’s story.

Everyone can invoke, compel, or create an advantage on a game aspect at any time; they’re always there and available for anyone’s use.

Character Aspects

Character aspects are just as permanent, but smaller in scope, attached to an individual PC or NPC. They describe a near-infinite number of things that set the character apart, such as:

  • Significant personality traits or beliefs (Sucker for a Pretty FaceNever Leave a Man BehindThe Only Good Tsyntavian Is a Dead Tsyntavian).
  • The character’s background or profession (Educated at the Academy of BladesBorn a SpacerCybernetic Street Thief).
  • An important possession or noticeable feature (My Father’s Bloodstained SwordDressed to the NinesSharp Eyed Veteran).
  • Relationships to people and organizations (In League with the Twisting HandThe King’s FavorProud Member of the Company of Lords).
  • Problems, goals, or issues the character is dealing with (A Price on My HeadThe King Must DieFear of Heights).
  • Titles, reputations, or obligations the character may have (Self-Important Merchant GuildmasterSilver-Tongued ScoundrelHonor-Bound to Avenge My Brother).

You can invoke or call for a compel on any of your character aspects whenever they’re relevant. GMs, you can always propose compels to any PC. Players, you can suggest compels for other people’s characters, but the GM is always going to get the final say on whether or not it’s a valid suggestion.

Situation Aspects

A situation aspect is temporary, intended to last only for a single scene or until it no longer makes sense (but no longer than a session, at most). Situation aspects can be attached to the environment the scene takes place in—which affects everybody in the scene—but you can also attach them to specific characters by targeting them when you create an advantage.

Situation aspects describe significant features of the circumstances the characters are dealing with in a scene. That includes:

  • Physical features of the environment (Dense UnderbrushObscuring SnowdriftsLow Gravity Planet).
  • Positioning or placement (Sniper’s PerchIn the TreesBackyard).
  • Immediate obstacles (Burning BarnTricky LockYawning Chasm).
  • Contextual details that are likely to come into play (Disgruntled TownsfolkSecurity CamerasLoud Machinery).
  • Sudden changes in a character’s status (Sand in the EyesDisarmedCorneredCovered in Slime).

Who can use a situation aspect depends a lot on narrative context—sometimes it’ll be very clear, and sometimes you’ll need to justify how you’re using the aspect to make sense based on what’s happening in the scene. GMs, you’re the final arbiter on what claims on an aspect are valid.

Sometimes situation aspects become obstacles that characters need to overcome. Other times they give you justification to provide active opposition against someone else’s action.

Consequences

A consequence is more permanent than a situation aspect, but not quite as permanent as a character aspect. They’re a special kind of aspect you take in order to avoid getting taken out in a conflict, and they describe lasting injuries or problems that you take away from a conflict (Dislocated ShoulderBloody NoseSocial Pariah).

Consequences stick around for a variable length of time, from a few scenes to a scenario or two, depending on how severe they are. Because of their negative phrasing, you’re likely to get compelled a lot when you have them, and anyone who can justifiably benefit from the consequence can invoke it or create an advantage on it.

Boosts

Boosts are a super-transient kind of aspect. You get a boost when you’re trying to create an advantage but don’t succeed well enough, or as an added benefit to succeeding especially well at an action. You get to invoke them for free, but as soon as you do, the aspect goes away.

If you want, you can also allow another character to invoke your boost, if it’s relevant and could help them out.

WHAT ASPECTS DO

In Fate, aspects do two major things: they tell you what’s important about the game, and they help you decide when to use the mechanics.

Importance

Your collection of game and character aspects tell you what you need to focus on during your game. Think of them as a message from yourself to yourself, a set of flags waving you towards the path with the most fun.

GMs, when you make scenarios for Fate, you’re going to use those aspects, and the connections between aspects, to generate the problems your PCs are going to solve. Players, your aspects are the reason why your PC stands out from every other character who might have similar skills—lots of Fate characters might have a high Fight skill, but only Landon is a Disciple of the Ivory Shroud. When his path as a disciple comes into play, or the Ivory Shroud takes action, it gives the game a personal touch that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The game aspects do something similar on a larger scale—they tell us why we care about playing this particular game in the first place, what makes it concrete and compelling to us. We can all say, “Oh, we like space opera games,” but until we drill down to the specifics of a universe where people will do Anything for Survival, and where The Empire is Everywhere, we don’t really have anything to attach our interest to.

Situation aspects make the moment-to-moment interactions of play interesting by adding color and depth to what might otherwise be a boring scene. A fight in a tavern is generic by nature—it could be any tavern, anywhere. But when you add the aspect Huge Bronze Devil Statue to the scene, and people bring it into play, it becomes “that fight we were in at the Bronze Devil, when I smashed that guy’s head into the statue.” The unique details add interest and investment.

Deciding When to Use Mechanics

Because aspects tell us what’s important, they also tell us when it’s most appropriate to use the mechanics to deal with a situation, rather than just letting people decide what happens just by describing what they do.

GMs, this comes up for you most often when you’re trying to figure out whether to require a player to roll dice. If a player says, “I climb this ladder and grab the idol,” and there’s nothing special about the ladder or the idol, then there’s no real reason to require an overcome action to grab it. But if the situation aspects tell you that the ladder is a Rotting Rope Ladder and the idol is Protected by the Wrath of the Gods, then you suddenly have an element of pressure and risk that makes it worth going to the dice for.

Players, this comes up for you most often when invoking your aspects and considering compels. Your aspects highlight what makes your character an individual, and you want to play that up, right? So when the opportunity comes up to make your character more awesome by invoking, go for it! When you see an opportunity to influence the story by suggesting a compel for your character, do it! The game will be much richer for it as a whole.

MAKING A GOOD ASPECT

Because aspects are so important to the game, it’s important to make the best aspects you can. So, how do you know what a good aspect is?

The best aspects are double-edgedsay more than one thing, and keep the phrasing simple.

Double-Edged

Players, good aspects offer a clear benefit to your character while also providing opportunities to complicate their lives or be used to their detriment.

An aspect with a double-edge is going to come up in play more often than a mostly positive or negative one. You can use them frequently to be awesome, and you’ll be able to accept more compels and gain more fate points.

Try this as a litmus test—list two ways you might invoke the aspect, and two ways someone else could invoke it or you could get a compel from it. If the examples come easily to mind, great! If not, add more context to make that aspect work or put that idea to the side and come up with a new aspect.


Let’s look at an aspect like Computer Genius. The benefits of having this aspect are pretty obvious—any time you’re hacking or working with technology, you could justify invoking it. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room for that aspect to work against you. So, let’s think of a way we can spice that up a bit.

What if we change that aspect to Nerdy McNerdson? That still carries the connotations that would allow you to take advantage of it while working with computers, but it adds a downside—you’re awkward around people. This might mean that you could accept compels to mangle a social situation, or someone might invoke your aspect when a fascinating piece of equipment distracts you.


GMs, this is just as true of your game and situation aspects. Any feature of a scene you call out should be something that either the PCs or their foes could use in a dramatic fashion. Your game aspects do present problems, but they also should present ways for the PCs to take advantage of the status quo.

Say More Than One Thing

Earlier, we noted several things that a character aspect might describe: personality traits, backgrounds, relationships, problems, possessions, and so forth. The best aspects overlap across a few of those categories, because that means you have more ways to bring them into play.


Let’s look at a simple aspect that a soldier might have: I Must Prove Myself. You can invoke this whenever you’re trying to do something to gain the approval of others or demonstrate your competence. Someone might compel it to bait you into getting into a fight you want to avoid, or to accept a hardship for the sake of reputation. So we know it has a double edge, so far so good.

That’ll work for a bit, but eventually this aspect will run out of steam. It says just one thing about the character. Either you’re trying to prove yourself, or this aspect isn’t going to come up.

Now tie that aspect in with a relationship to an organization: The Legion Demands I Prove Myself. Your options open up a great deal. Not only do you get all the content from before, but you’ve introduced that the Legion can make demands of you, can get you into trouble by doing things you get blamed for, or can send NPC superiors to make your life difficult. You can also invoke the aspect when dealing with the Legion, or with anyone else who might be affected by the Legion’s reputation. Suddenly, that aspect has a lot more going on around it.


GMs, for your situation aspects, you don’t have to worry about this as much, because they’re only intended to stick around for a scene. It’s much more important for game and character aspects to suggest multiple contexts for use.


* I Must Prove Myself

* The Legion Demands I Prove Myself


Clear Phrasing

Because aspects are phrases, they come with all the ambiguities of language. If no one knows what your aspect means, it won’t get used enough.

That isn’t to say you have to avoid poetic or fanciful expression. Just a Simple Farmboy isn’t quite as fetching as Child of Pastoral Bliss. If that’s the tone your game is going for, feel free to indulge your linguistic desires.

However, don’t do this at the expense of clarity. Avoid metaphors and implications, when you can get away with just saying what you mean. That way, other people don’t have to stop and ask you during play if a certain aspect would apply, or get bogged down in discussions about what it means.


Let’s look at Memories, Wishes, and Regrets. There’s something evocative about the phrase. It suggests a kind of melancholy about the past. But as an aspect, I don’t really know what it’s supposed to do. How does it help you? What are the memories of? What did you wish for? Without some concrete idea of what the aspect’s referring to, invoking and compelling it is pretty much impossible.

Suppose we talk about this some, and you specify that you were going for this idea that your character was scarred from years spent in the setting’s last great war. You killed people you didn’t want to kill, saw things you didn’t want to see, and pretty much had all your hope of returning to a normal life taken away.

I think this is all fantastic, and I suggest we call it Scars from the War. Less poetic, maybe, but it directly references all the stuff you’re talking about, and gives me ideas about people from your past I may be able to bring back into your life.


If you’re wondering if your aspect is unclear, ask the people at the table what they think it means.


* Memories, Wishes, and Regrets

* Scars from the War


IF YOU GET STUCK

Now you know what makes for a good aspect, but that doesn’t narrow down your potential choices any—you still have a nearly infinite set of topics and ideas to choose from.

If you’re still stuck about what to choose, here are some tips to make things a little easier on you.

Sometimes, It’s Better Not to Choose

If you can’t think of an aspect that really grabs you and the other people at the table, you’re better off leaving that space blank, or just keeping whatever ideas you had scribbled in the margins. Sometimes it’s much easier to wait for your character to get into play before you figure out how you want to word a particular aspect.

So when in doubt, leave it blank. Maybe you have a general idea of the aspect but don’t know how to phrase it, or maybe you just have no idea. Don’t worry about it. There’s always room during the game to figure it out as you go.

The same thing is true if you have more than one idea that seems juicy, but they don’t work together and you don’t know which one to pick. Write them all down in the margins and see which one seems to really sing in play. Then fill the space in later, with the one that gets the most mileage.

Always Ask What Matters and Why

We said above that aspects tell you why something matters in the game and why we care about it. This is your primary compass and guide to choosing the best possible aspect. When in doubt, always ask: what do we really care about here, and why?

The events of the phases should help you figure out what your aspect should be. Don’t try to summarize the events of the phase or anything like that with your aspect—remember, the point is to reveal something important about the character. Again, ask yourself what really matters about the phase:

  • What was the outcome? Is that important?
  • Did the character develop any important relationships or connections during this phase?
  • Does the phase help establish anything important about the character’s personality or beliefs?
  • Did the phase give the character a reputation?
  • Did the phase create a problem for the character in the game world?

Assume that each question ends with “for good or ill”—these features, relationships, and reputations aren’t necessarily going to be positive, after all. Developing a relationship with a nemesis is as juicy as developing one with your best friend.

If there’s more than one option, poll the other players and GM to see what they find interesting. Remember, you should all be helping each other out—the game works best if everyone’s a fan of what everyone else is doing.


During Cynere’s phase three, Lily states that she complicated Zird’s story by showing up at an opportune moment and stealing the artifact that Zird stole from his rivals. Eventually the artifact returns to Zird’s hands.

She’s trying to tease out what the best aspect would be, and she doesn’t have a whole lot of information to go on. Going through the questions above, we see a lot of potential options—she showed off her underhandedness, she definitely suggested a relationship with Zird of some kind, and Zird’s rivals might now have a beef with her as well.

Lily polls the rest of the group, and after some talking, everyone seems to be pretty enthused about Cynere having some kind of aspected connection to Zird—they did all grow up in the same village, after all. She decides on I’ve Got Zird’s Back, because it’s specific enough to be invoked and compelled, but leaves room for development later on in the game.


Vary It Up

You don’t want all your aspects to describe the same kind of thing. Five relationships means that you can’t use your aspects unless one of them is in play, but five personality traits means that you have no connection to the game world. If you’re stuck on what to pick for an aspect, looking at what kinds of things your other aspects describe may help you figure out which way to go for the current phase.


Lenny ends up with Disciple of the Ivory Shroud and The Manners of a Goat as Landon’s high concept and trouble. So far, this is a pretty straightforward character—a violent type whose mouth and demeanor are always getting him into trouble.

Lenny does his phase one and explains to us that Landon was a miscreant and street rat that grew up practically as an orphan—his parents were around, but never really paid too much attention to him or spent effort reining him in. He eventually decided to enlist in the town militia after someone saved him from a clobbering in a bar fight and suggested he do something worthwhile with his life.

Amanda asks him what really matters about this phase, and Lenny ponders a bit. Landon’s first two aspects are heavy on personal description—he doesn’t have a lot of relationships yet. So Lenny focuses on that and decides he wants a connection to the guy who pulled him into the militia.

They end up naming that guy Old Finn, Landon ends up with the aspect I Owe Old Finn Everything, and Amanda now has a new NPC to play with.


Let Your Friends Decide

We’ve talked before about the fact that the game works best if everyone is invested in what everyone else is doing—collaboration is at the heart of the game, and we’ll probably say it a lot more times before the end of this book.

You always have the option, especially with aspects, of simply asking the GM and other players to come up with something on your behalf. Pitch them the events of the phase, and ask them the same questions they’re going to be asking of you. What matters to them? What are they excited about? Do they have suggestions about how to make the events of the phase more dramatic or intense? What aspect do they think would be most interesting or appropriate?

You have the final decision as to what your character’s aspects are, so don’t look at it as giving up control. Look at it as asking your ever-important fan club and audience what they want to see, and using their suggestions to jumpstart your own train of thought. If everyone has a bit of input on everyone else’s characters, the game will benefit from that sense of mutual investment.

INVOKING ASPECTS

The primary way you’re going to use aspects in a game of Fate is to invoke them. If you’re in a situation where an aspect is beneficial to your character somehow, you can invoke it.

In order to invoke an aspect, explain why the aspect is relevant, spend a fate point, and you can choose one of these benefits:

  • Take a +2 on your current skill roll after you’ve rolled the dice.
  • Reroll all your dice.
  • Pass a +2 benefit to another character’s roll, if it’s reasonable that the aspect you’re invoking would be able to help.
  • Add +2 to any source of passive opposition, if it’s reasonable that the aspect you’re invoking could contribute to making things more difficult. You can also use this to create passive opposition at Fair (+2) if there wasn’t going to be any.


It doesn’t matter when you invoke the aspect, but usually it’s best to wait until after you’ve rolled the dice to see if you’re going to need the benefit. You can invoke multiple aspects on a single roll, but youcannot invoke the same aspect multiple times on a single roll. So if your reroll doesn’t help you enough, you’ll have to pick another aspect (and spend another fate point) for a second reroll or that +2.

The group has to buy into the relevance of a particular aspect when you invoke it; GMs, you’re the final arbiter on this one. The use of an aspect should make sense, or you should be able to creatively narrate your way into ensuring it makes sense.

Precisely how you do this is up to you. Sometimes, it makes so much sense to use a particular aspect that you can just hold up the fate point and name it. Or you might need to embellish your character’s action a little more so that everyone understands where you’re coming from. (That’s why we recommend making sure that you’re on the same page with the group as to what each of your aspects means—it makes it easier to justify bringing it into play.)


Landon is trying to win a contest of wits with a rival in a tavern, and the skill they’re currently using is Rapport, which they’ve described as “attempting to shame each other as politely as possible.”

Lenny rolls badly on one of the contest exchanges, and says, “I want to invoke The Manners of a Goat.” Amanda gives him a skeptical look and replies, “What happened to ‘as politely as possible’?”

Lenny says, “Well, what I was thinking about doing was making some kind of ribald but not vulgar innuendo about the guy’s parentage, in order to get the crowd at the bar to laugh at him, perhaps despite themselves. I figure that bawdy put-downs are precisely my cup of tea.”

Amanda nods and says, “Okay, I’ll take that.”

Lenny spends the fate point.


If you want to see more examples of invoking an aspect, we’ve scattered them throughout the book—they’re so integral to how Fate works that they naturally end up in many examples of play. Check out herehere, and here.

If the aspect you invoke is on someone else’s character sheet, including situation aspects attached to them, you give them the fate point you spent. They don’t actually get to use it until after the end of the scene, though.



Free Invocations

You don’t always have to pay a fate point to invoke an aspect—sometimes it’s free.

When you succeed at creating an advantage, you “stick” a free invocation onto an aspect. If you succeed with style, you get two invocations. Some of the other actions also give you free boosts.

You also get to stick a free invocation on any consequences you inflict in a conflict.

Free invocations work like normal ones except in two ways: no fate points are exchanged, and you can stack them with a normal invocation for a better bonus. So you can use a free invocation and pay a fate point on the same aspect to get a +4 bonus instead of a +2, two rerolls instead of one, or you can add +4 to another character’s roll or increase passive opposition by +4. Or you could split the benefits, getting a reroll and a +2 bonus. You can also stack multiple free invocations together.

After you’ve used your free invocation, if the aspect in question is still around, you can keep invoking it by spending fate points.


Cynere succeeds on an attack, and causes her opponent to take the Cut Across the Gut consequence. On the next exchange, she attacks him again, and she can invoke that for free because she put it there, giving her a +2 or a reroll.


If you want, you can pass your free invocation to another character. That allows you to get some teamwork going between you and a buddy. This is really useful in a conflict if you want to set someone up for a big blow—have everyone create an advantage and pass their free invocations onto one person, then that person stacks all of them up at once for a huge bonus.


FOR VETERANS